It's only been three months since T.J. Dillashaw shocked the MMA world and dethroned Renan Barao. However, the elite bantamweights are already set to meet again on Saturday, with Dillashaw defending the 135-pound belt this time around.
At UFC 173, Dillashaw demolished Barao over four rounds before stopping the Brazilian with strikes in the fifth stanza. With Barao being previously unbeaten inside the Octagon, it was an outcome nobody but Dillashaw and his teammates at Team Alpha Male could have seen coming.
The quick turnaround for this rematch has many wondering what Barao can possibly do to close the gap that was evident between him and Dillashaw only a few months ago. Let us examine what Barao can do to reclaim his crown and also what Dillashaw should attempt to do in order to repeat the success he had in May.
T.J. Dillashaw: Start Strong and Get Renan Barao Discouraged
Because he beat Barao so badly the first time around, Dillashaw isn't going to want to stray too much from the approach he brought into that meeting.
Dillashaw: “The pressure is on him (Barao). He’s gotta come back from that performance. He’s gotta change his game plan up."— UFC Tonight (@UFCTonight) August 28, 2014
What Dillashaw will want to focus on is picking up where he left off three months ago and doing so quickly. Should he get out to an early lead or even rock the challenger in the opening round, Dillashaw may be able to get into Barao's head and take the fight out of the Brazilian early on.
If Barao loses the first round convincingly, he could start thinking that Dillashaw simply has his number and that he's about to be in for the same treatment he received back in May. However, a competitive opening frame or slow start from Dillashaw could allow Barao's hope to build.
Confidence is key in combat sports, and Dillashaw can't give Barao a reason to have any.
Renan Barao: Move Laterally and Attempt Takedowns
Prior to UFC 173, nobody had been able to give Barao much trouble in any area. Under striking coach Duane Ludwig's guidance, Dillashaw was able to find a significant hole in the Brazilian's defense, though.
Barao tends to get a bit wild with his striking, which has worked to his benefit at times, but it leaves an opening for counters. Dillashaw moved brilliantly in all directions and picked apart Barao, who also revealed a tendency to throw only one or two punches in succession when he fails to land.
Clearly, Barao needs to throw something different at Dillashaw when standing on Saturday.
The former champion should avoid rushing straight forward and might succeed by sitting back and countering Dillashaw more often this time around. While that was Dillashaw's game plan the last time these two met inside the Octagon, the champion will take risks on occasion.
In his UFC debut against John Dodson, Dillashaw got caught being too aggressive, as The Magician scored a knockout by moving laterally and landing a counter left hand.
Barao should also look to take Dillashaw down at least a couple of times on Saturday. With 14 career submissions, Barao is strongest on the ground, but he did not attempt a single takedown against Dillashaw at UFC 173.
Dillashaw has never been taken down in his UFC career and has not been submitted in an MMA bout, but that doesn't mean Barao should ignore the strongest part of his offensive arsenal. That's not to say Barao will submit Dillashaw should he get this fight to the canvas, but one takedown could be all the challenger needs to alter the titleholder's stand-up approach.
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